WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. --- Jim Strates wants to see some adjustments made in the carnival industry with regard to testing older rides for corrosive damage.
Strates Shows owns a KMG Fireball, the same model ride that was involved in July's deadly accident at the Ohio State Fair. In Columbus, an investigation showed excessive corrosion resulted in "catastrophic failure" for the ride breaking apart in mid-air at the fair, according to KMG.
Since the accident occurred, the Strates piece has been out of service and the carnival has ordered replacement arms. It was among the first 40 Fireballs made overseas and the carnival voluntarily made the decision to put the ride down, said Jim Strates, who runs the show with his brothers John, Jay and t
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in conjunction with the American Society for Testing and Materials, the group most closely aligned with testing portable rides, needs to study the topic of non-visual corrosion of aging rides and develop a standardized method for resolving the issue, Jim Strates said.
"Instead of becoming reactive and do things that don't make sense with rides being at risk, we need to figure out how fast does corrosion work?" he said.
"How often do you test for it, every five or 10 years? Corrosion is working on everything, all the time," Strates said. "It's a legitimate concern. If it happened tomorrow with a different ride ... what do we do so it's not a ticking time bomb waiting to happen."
Along the same lines, the Strates family would like to see more comprehensive maintenance and support contracts from the European ride manufacturers, considering those companies produce a greater percentage of rides compared with the decreasing pool of U.S. manufacturers.
For example, Strates is renovating its Huss Pirate Ship, a piece that has been out of commission for several years now as the carnival converts its power grid from hydraulic to electric. It's working with a group out of England to produce the new system and the project should be completed by next year.
It's been a long road to get the ride back in operation, with the job extending to sandblasting and repainting the Pirate Ship in addition to installing a new LED light package. Much of the equipment is old and tough to service because it's difficult to find replacement parts, Strates said.
"We've made great progress on it," he said. "But our industry is way behind in terms of having a purchasing contract responsive to our needs. A lot of things are not standardized. We need to know, what is their level of support? Can they do repairs in this country? And if they go out of business, can we still get parts? A lot of those things don't exist, and some states need that documentation to secure permits."
In addition, it doesn't help that most Europeans go on vacation at the same time in August, at the height of the fair season, Strates said. "If we had to get a part shipped overnight, we would be a lot better off if it came from Cleveland ... "
The same principle applies to LED lights. Ten years from now, as the lighting technology evolves, the bulbs carnivals use now to upgrade their rides most likely won't be available anymore, Strates said. The question is, will shows still be able to buy replacement lights or have to spend $100,000 for a new system?
"The industry needs a uniform purchasing tool," he said.
At the Dixie Classic Fair here, a light rain fell on the final Saturday of the fair (Oct. 7) but it didn't dampen attendance. Early in the afternoon, there were lines at most of the bigger rides as well as new kiddie attractions, the Silver Streak music ride and Steve Ianni's Dumbo ride. It wasn't too bad. On the same day in 2016, more than three inches of rain fell on the fair, Strates said.
In terms of heavy downpours, Jim Strates drove through Hurricane Irma on his way home to Orlando to take care of some personal business. The eye of the hurricane came close to hitting his residence and he ended up cleaning up a ton of debris that was the equivalent of five years of normal trash pickup, he said.
At the show's winter quarters, the roof came off the electric shop and a carport blew across the railroad tracks nearby, but that's to be expected from hurricane winds, Strates said.
All told, the family can't complain too much about weather this year, he said. The summer wasn't too hot with the exception of "three days of scorching weather" at Nassau Coliseum, where the carnival set up about 40 rides in the parking lot of the renovated arena. The Fireball was set up there when the Ohio accident occurred. There were no incidents with the Strates ride.
The new event in Long Island, billed as the Empire State Fair, ran July 20-30. The arena re-opened earlier this year following a $260 million facelift. Strates played the same parking lot years ago when the New York Islanders played at the arena before moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015.
Fair promoter Al Dorso produced the Nassau event. He also runs the State Fair Meadowlands.
Overall, the northeast portion of Strates' schedule was a "little sluggish" economically compared with stronger revenue along the southern route, Strates said.
"The environment for all businesses is tough these days," he said. "We've got regulations coming out of our ears and the federal government is more adversarial. In the higher density areas, things are more difficult with the Department of Labor, although there are exceptions. We have a great relationship with New York now, the best it's been in years."
Strates feels the mass shooting in Las Vegas has had a greater affect on fairs' attendance than the Ohio State Fair incident. In general, event security is a greater concern for the industry. The Erie County (N.Y.) Fair, a longtime Strates account, is among the special events using electronic wands to scan patrons as they pass through the gates, he said.
"I don't know what we can do as an event other than heightened awareness," Strates said. "It's a legitimate question. What should we be doing? But In our industry, sometimes I think money would be better spent on traffic control."